By Captain Mike Brandt
Fuels management officer
Pine/Strawberry Fire Department
The recent danger posed to our area by the Willow fire and earlier in the season, the Webber fire, has driven home to many residents the point that we must be proactive in our efforts to protect our lives and property. We simply can't take for granted the beautiful forest lands that we're privileged to live in. Drought and disease have created an extreme situation right in our backyards and we must act now. But as we move into the future, it is vital that we understand the past. How exactly did our communities form into the fire hazards they are today?
Prior to European influence, our area was grassland with small groups of healthy trees, similar to that which you'd imagine in a park. As the grass would grow, Mother Nature would take her cue and "natural" burns would take place, using the grass as a carrier. This low-level fire would consume excess ground debris and ladder fuel. This "natural" cleaning effect held catastrophic fire at bay.
Soon the wilderness started to see signs of civilization, which did not view fire as a tool. The slow-moving fires that once moved across the land now began to consume the personal improvements and hard work which affected the livelihood of the people. Fires were then extinguished and the clean pockets of trees began to grow wider and brush began to grow in places that were once kept away. As more people began to populate the area, uncontrolled fire became a threat.
To organize firefighting efforts, the U.S. Forest Service was formed in 1905 with three objectives in mind: to extinguish wildfire, stop deforestation, and control the resources for a growing nation. Fire prevention did not come to the forefront until World War II. The citizens were concerned that a wildfire would destroy our forest resources at a time when wood products were greatly needed for the war effort. In 1944 the Forest Service and the War Advertising Council introduced a campaign symbol for fire prevention. Smokey Bear's message, "Only you can prevent forest fires," was a success. However, Smokey never said "No" to prescribed fires, logging or clearing out underbrush.
Today's society has learned to accept our overgrown forest communities. In truth, we are a far deviation from what we are supposed to be. With reluctance to reduce the brush from our neighborhoods, we are now swimming in a sea of fuel. We don't have the resources to fight the fire this sea would produce, but as a community we have the ability to drain this sea of fuel.
I can't stress enough how important each property owner is to our effort to protect our community. While we do have an approximate 330-foot wide firebreak surrounding the area, it only offers one measure of protection. All it would take would be one undetected ember to blow across that line to start a path of destruction. We must work together to make sure that every property in our community is safe.
Our ideals need to be altered from living in a thick forest to a park-like setting. We live in one of the few places where it is normal not to see your neighbor. This obstruction can easily change. Your neighbor might actually like to see you.
Our community has a large percentage of part-time residents and out-of-state property owners who may not be aware of the seriousness of this problem. It's imperative that we get the word out to them about what must be done and how they can maintain a fire-wise property. The Pine Strawberry Community Wildfire Awareness Project has funding available in ratio to the hours that each resident has spent in fire prevention activity on his/her property. This money will go directly towards contacting and educating all of our absentee property owners with the goal of making sure that not just some properties but all properties, are safer in the face of this danger.
Also, if you have cleared or removed beetle kill or other brush on your property please stop by either the Pine or Strawberry Fire Departments and fill out a Wildland Fire Grant 2004 Form. This form allows the fire departments to track hours worked on brush removal and gather grant money for the project.